How can teams keep more players healthy? Two words…bubble wrap.
AT 5’O CLOCK IN THE MORNING on Jan. 19, Stan Conte woke to an email from Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, his familiar alarm clock of the past six years. Before Conte had a chance to breathe, Colletti hit him with the name of a free agent and a question that Conte, as the club’s senior director of medical services, has come to dread like no other:
“Yes or no?”
GMs, Conte says, always want him to provide definitive answers in absolute terms to million-dollar questions like: Are this catcher’s knees healthy enough to last two years? Or: If I give this pitcher a huge contract, will his arm fall off after six starts?
And more to the point: Should I sign him?
Before joining the Dodgers in 2006, Conte fielded many similar predawn queries from GM Brian Sabean during Conte’s seven seasons as the Giants’ head athletic trainer. In Conte’s mind, answering these questions is equivalent to asking a manager to guarantee his centerfielder will hit 35 home runs next season. Short of sorcery, there’s just no way to know. Yet that hasn’t stopped Conte from attempting to build a crystal ball anyway. “In a post-Moneyball world,” he says, “injury risk assessment is the final frontier.”